I didn’t intend on writing a blog post until next week with the kickstarter for Rack and Ruin taking up a lot of my time. However, this topic has been coming up repeatedly with my close friend over the last fortnight and I wanted to address my thoughts on it coherently.
When talking about ‘The Long Game’ in fiction, I am referring to the overall story arc of a series. Whether we are talking about a series of books, seasons in a television show, or a series of movies doesn’t matter though I believe that some of these mediums face a much more difficult challenge.
Last night I watched the final two episodes of ‘The Following’, a thriller show surrounding FBI agents as they try to capture a serial killer and his cult following. At least, that was how the show started. Joe Carroll (played by the ever fantastic James Purefoy) was a Edgar Allan Poe obsessed serial killer captured some fourteen years before the first episode. He escapes prison and uses a cult of aspiring serial killers who have been in contact with him through his time in prison to terrorise, well, everyone.
The first season of the show was astounding (in my opinion.) It was breakneck and had that same skill G.R.R Martin instilled in Game of Thrones in that you couldn’t count on your favourite characters surviving just because they were classed as a hero.
Then, season 2 came. It just makes me want to sigh. The show was still good, don’t get me wrong, and as I’ve already said, I watched it through to the conclusion of season 3. However, there was an element that I’ve seen with a lot of television shows that consistantly pisses me off… and that is that they ignore the long game.
Television shows are picked up by the season for the most part, and we have that wonderfully edge-of-our-seat period each year where we wait to see if our favourite shows get to live another year. We’ve all suffered the losses of our favourites way too soon (RIP Firefly anyone?) Unfortunately, we’ve all also seen our favourite shows extended into their own demise.
I see the same problem with books and movies. Money makers are extended past their shelf-lives just to make a bit more on the next installment and good stories that don’t immediately earn are cut off before their time.
Now, I understand that companies need to do things that make them money, but this complete aversion to the long game is belittling their fiction. Story arcs run for a season before they wait on tenderhooks to see if they get to create a whole new arc. When it comes to fiction based around the destruction of ‘the big bad’, this can be horrendous.
Imagine, if you will, that after defeating Voldemort, something Harry has been working towards for seven books, JK Rowling released a new Harry Potter novel with a new villain, a villain who was bigger and badder than Voldemort even though we’d never heard of them. Thie villain belittled Voldemort’s war and throughout the book left us wondering why the hell it took 7 books to defeat him, seeing as he was clearly such a tool.
Some series can make it work. Buffy the Vampire Slayer did this wonderfully, but Whedon also knew where to stop. Supernatural on the other hand? I love the storyline, but goddamn I think it should have ended a good few seasons ago.
The Following had the same problem. They had an absolutely wonderful villain in Joe Carroll. He was charming and psychopathic in a way that made you want him to be captured and also want him to win at the same time. He was doing something unheard of in creating a cult of killers around him. However, come season 2 and 3 and it turned out that every serial killer and his dog had accolites willing to kill and die for them. There were leaders of groups mocking Joe for being pathetic and too obsessed with fame. They completely belittled this almost impossible fight by giving you a bigger and harder one to fight next.
With the fact that television shows are booked per season, I can understand that they wanted to give fans a satisfying ending in case they weren’t picked up for season 2. However, the price of a satisying ending for the season is a satisfying show. I, for one, would have much preferred it if season 1 had been more about catching Joe’s lower accolites, taking away his defences before moving onto the people who organised the following whilst Joe was in prison. (I’m looking at you, Roderick. Killed off too soon.) Have Joe organising things, causing terror, but ultimately staying safe until the last season.
Or hell, catch him in season 2 and use him in season three to round up the rest. (Which, admittedly, they did touch on using Joe to help secure other killers.)
The point here is that by writing a single season at a time, the long game is damaged and belittled.
So, why am I writing about this? Because the same thing happens in books. Authors keep successful series churning out books past the sellby date because the series makes money. Authors of a book series are dropped from publishing houses because book 1 didn’t make a million right off the gate. We are becoming a planet of single season watchers and it kills me. Fantastic and imaginative original stories are being cut short because we don’t put the effort in to keep going. The brilliance of a shorter arc is belittled and degraded by the continuation of money-makers.
It disappoints me.
So, yes, I will write Out of Orbit for 4 books (with some short stories aside) and then I will stop. I will write Teeth for the story I have planned and then I will stop. Even if I release a book and the first volume makes me very little, I will keep writing that series until the end because who knows, maybe book 5 will be the one that brings fans.
I’m not going to drop a story because it doesn’t make a million in a month. I’m not going to drag out storylines that have used up their plot, slapping in new characters and new ‘big bads’ just because people like the hero.
I’m going to write a story for as long as it takes me to tell that story. I’m playing the long game.
Have a good Wednesday.